Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn and The Fortress of Solitude and “genre bending” hipster, chose several films for Jonathan Lethem Selects, a month-long film series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As the 2006/2007 chair of the Friends of BAM board, he chose High and Low, This Sporting Life, La Collectionneuse, The Lineup, Murder by Contract, Ruggles of Red Gap, Straight Time, Love Streams, and Shame.
Tonight at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m., it’s 1963’s This Sporting Life, a movie about a working class coal-miner-turned-star rugby player directed by Lindsay Anderson.
Lethem feeds us a heaping spoonful of pretension (and a name-drop for our own Andrew Sarris!) in this interview on the BAM site:
Matthew Buchholz: Looking at the films you selected for the series here at BAM, is there any thread connecting all of them?
Jonathan Lethem: Well, at the risk of the tautology, "the thread in the Jonathan Lethem Selects films is that Jonathan Lethem selected them," when I glance at the list that resulted I can’t keep from thinking that the only thing those films all have particularly in common—apart from the excellence which makes me confident of thrusting them on other viewers—is that they form a kind of descriptive outline (like the arctic explorers standing in an arc around the submerged frozen spaceship in the Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby version of The Thing) around my cinematic obsessions. And, by chance (this really wasn’t planned, the list and its running order came about in a quite haphazard way, as titles were eliminated from a much longer preliminary list), the sequence could be seen as a kind of brief autobiographical sketch of my movie-going:
Kurosawa, Anderson, and Rohmer represent my teenaged preference, so directly inherited from my New York-bohemian-intellectual parents, for international art-house cinema, the kind of canonical European and Japanese directors who still seem to define a kind of "prestige" most cineastes can agree on (though, if I’d been more specifically making a autobiographical list of those enthusiasms, it should probably have been Truffaut or Godard instead of Rohmer, and Roeg instead of Anderson).
Next, in my college years and just after, I discovered what my art-house enthusiasm had overlooked—the splendor of classic Hollywood genre film (an epiphany I detailed in an essay called "Defending The Searchers"). The entry point of this obsession was film noir, and so The Lineup and Murder by Contract stand perfectly for this chapter in my roving interests. Next, following hard on noir’s heels, was a time when all I could think about was the western. Ruggles of Red Gap can stand for that, however tangentially. More importantly, my interest in a director like McCarey comes completely out of my reading of "auteurist" film criticism in those days—the Cahiers critics and Andrew Sarris were my compasses as I explored the Hollywood catalogue.
That exploration, in turn, brought me back to the American films that had been playing in New York as I grew up, and which I’d mostly ignored while racing to the Thalia or New Yorker to see Godard and Truffaut: the "maverick" 70s, for which Straight Time can fairly stand (though Ulu Grosbard hardly went to UCLA film school!).
Most recently, I suppose I’ve come full circle to my old art-house interests, finding nourishment in self-conscious film artists like Bergman and Cassavetes—each, in their completely different ways, about as novelistic as film can get.